#288…11 Skills Toddlers MUST Use Before Words Emerge…#10 Initiates with Others



We’re continuing our series with the 11 skills toddlers must master before words emerge.

Today we’re talking about skill #10 – INITIATING INTERACTION WITH OTHERS

When we talk about initiation skills, we’re meaning that the child does something to try to begin interaction with you. By doing this, he’s taking an active role in learning to communicate. He’s not just left to respond or wait for an adult to begin interaction with him or to notice when he needs something. He can actually start the process. When a child is extremely passive, he’s unlikely to become a functional communicator because he’s really not learned that he has power and is “in charge,” so to speak, of what’s happening in his own little world.

Just like the other skills we’ve discussed in this series: Initiation doesn’t begin with words. A child can initiate contact with another person using eye gaze, a gestures, or even another kind of vocalization. These kinds of initiations emerge BEFORE a child learns to initiate by talking.

Teaching a child to initiate is an important step in learning not only how to talk, but more importantly, in learning how to communicate. Here’s how I explain this to parents:

Communicating requires 2 people. Somebody has to begin this process of interacting – and we call that initiating. The other person responds – (in turn taking. We’ll talk about that specifically next week!)

A lack of initiating is a red flag for autism in young child. Some parents attribute limited initiation to shyness, but they are two different issues.

Teaching a child how to start interaction (or conversation when he’s really talking!) is an important part of helping him learn to get his needs met and to redirect your attention. In today’s show, we’ll talk about specific ways you can help a child learn to initiate. Click below,  listen below (or on iTunes) for how to accomplish this.

Ways you can help a child learn to initiate:

  1. First of all, begin by paying attention to what he likes and what captures his interest. You’ll use those things to entice him to try to get what he wants! Talk about those things with him. Point to those objects. You’re essentially teaching him…I am noticing you and what you’re noticing. 
  2. Arrange her environment so that she needs you to get what she wants. For example, don’t set out her sippy cup for her. Put treasured items on a high shelf and wait until she notices then lets you know in some way that she would like for you to give her the item. Wait her out (within reason!!) to give her a chance to show or tell you what she needs. I gave TONS of examples in the podcast. Listen for ideas! If you’d rather read suggestions, check out this post of mine A Little Frustration Can Go A Long Way! Using Withholding and Sabotage Effectively to Teach a Child to Talk. (P.S. Please don’t misinterpret these strategies and use them in a mean-spirited way! Read the article to make sure you’re not violating the #1 principle here… Frustration is quite different from FAILURE!)
  3. Present NOVEL materials to increase her interest. There are several fun ideas in the podcast.
  4. You can also target initiation with your well-established social games. For example, if your son likes to ride on your back, get down on the floor and look at him as if to say, “Hey! Wanna play?” but wait him out a little before you get on your hands and knees. If your little girl likes to swing in a blanket, leave the blanket out so she can get it and bring it to you to begin the game.
  5. Gradually introduce the concept of distance into your initiation/sabotage games. Move away so he learns to seek you out in order to get what he wants.

Wishing you lots of success with these ideas!!


Ready for the next show? Here it is!


As I mentioned earlier, limited initiation skills is a red flag for autism. My new course will help you not only reliably recognize signs and symptoms of autism (part one), but better yet, learn how to treat these red flags and core issues of ASD in toddlers and preschoolers. Get more information about that course on DVD here.

If you’re working with a child who isn’t imitating or using words and need a step-by-step guide for helping him learn to talk, I highly recommend my book Building Verbal Imitation in Toddlers. If you’re an SLP or another therapist and would rather take a full course on DVD (with continuing education credit!) outlining these strategies so that you can SEE how this looks with toddlers and preschoolers, I have one for you with this information Steps to Building Verbal Imitation Skills in Toddlers. 


If you’ve missed the earlier shows in this series, check them out below:

#275 Introduction Show – Why These Skills are Important

#276 Overview of Skills 1 – 5

#277 Overview of Skills 6 – 11

#278 Responds to Things in the Environment

#279 Responds to People

#280 Building an Attention Span

#281 Developing Joint Attention

#282 –  Developing Early Play Skills (part one)

#283 – Early Play  Skills (part two)

#284 Understands Gestures

#285 Understands What Words Mean (Follows Simple Directions!)

#286 Vocalizes Purposefully

#287 Imitates Others



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